Me: I'm just interested in why you chose tackled such a major issue in THE S-WORD, especially this being your debut novel. Maybe you could discuss why this story HAD to written. (I really like stories that take on bullies. I wasn't bullied too bad but I was never Miss Popular either, if you know what I mean.)
I started thinking about “The S-Word” when teen suicide was all over the news. Ellen DeGeneres called it an epidemic. The folks at It Gets Better were trying to convince young people to hold on a little longer, because life really does improve. I kept thinking: what can I do? Can I do anything? I didn’t work in a middle school or high school. I didn’t have kids of that age (or, let’s be honest, any age), so it would’ve been somewhat odd for me to infiltrate the PTA. But I couldn’t just do nothing. People’s lives were at stake. Good people, whose only fault was being born into a world that didn’t appreciate them, or see their awesomeness.
So I started to write. I wrote about all the ugliness in the world that baffled me, or made me angry, or broke my heart. I wrote about it as honestly as I could. I didn’t sugar coat or gloss over anything. I wanted to reflect the world back to itself, to hopefully show people, from my perspective, what was wrong and how we could change it.
I also wrote about the connections between things: how boys being beaten for wanting to kiss other boys is connected to girls being brutalized for showing any hint of sexuality. How abuse in school is connected to abuse at home. I wrote about how it’s all part of a spectrum of violence, of a society that divides people into categories of “valuable” and “useless” and punishes those who don’t measure up. And once I started seeing the connections, I couldn’t stop. One connection bled into another, until I had this giant, unbroken tapestry of cause and effect, of bullying begetting more bullying.
I called it “The S-Word.” I wrote the first draft in a month. And while I didn’t specifically say, “Here is the connection between this and that,” I attempted to show how all of this bullying and violence and divisiveness is experienced by teens on a daily basis. I created Lizzie, who’s tormented by her entire class after she’s caught in bed with the wrong boy. I created Jesse, whose refusal to conform to traditional gender roles makes people think they have the right to attack him, both verbally and physically. Shelby’s dealing with racism in a school that’s ninety-percent white. Kennedy’s been labeled “easy” since seventh grade. The more I thought about it, the more problems I uncovered for this group of struggling teens; problems dealt with every day in real high schools and junior highs. Problems I encountered in my own high school days (though I believe things are worse today). It almost started to feel like too much; the problems were overwhelming. Did I really have to write about all of these things?
But that was the point. That’s our reality. And it needed to be shown, if we’re ever going to find a solution to this culture of violence. My version of things isn’t the only one, and there are certainly issues I wasn’t able to touch upon. But if one person is moved by my story, and inspired to change their behavior, I’ve done what I set out to do. And if one person realizes she’s not alone in a world that’s trying to objectify or marginalize her; if one person realizes he’s valuable in a world that tells him he’s not worthy of being loved, I’ve done more than I could’ve hoped.
About The S-Word:
First it was SLUT scribbled all over Lizzie Hart’s locker.
But one week after Lizzie kills herself, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie's looping scrawl.
Lizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she's caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie's own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.
Debut author Chelsea Pitcher daringly depicts the harsh reality of modern high schools, where one bad decision can ruin a reputation, and one cruel word can ruin a life. Angie’s quest for the truth behind Lizzie’s suicide is addictive and thrilling, and her razor-sharp wit and fierce sleuthing skills makes her impossible not to root for—even when it becomes clear that both avenging Lizzie and avoiding self-destruction might not be possible.
Release date: May 7th 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
About the Author:
Chelsea Pitcher is a native of Portland, OR where she received her BA in English Literature. Fascinated by all things literary, she began gobbling up stories as soon as she could read, and especially enjoys delving into the darker places to see if she can draw out some light.
Official links: chelseapitcher.com | @Chelsea_Pitcher